Lebanese turn to solar energy amid collapse of national power grid



The finances of many Lebanese households are hurting, forcing them once again to seek alternatives, and many are turning to solar energy.


Almost three years into Lebanon’s trifecta of economic, social and political crises, many Lebanese are desperate to find solutions. With no reliable source of electricity, those who can afford it are leading a shift towards green energy, predominantly solar. 

As Lebanon’s energy crisis cripples the country’s infrastructure and the daily lives of the Lebanese, citizens are finding new ways to manage.

Mohammed Nehme, a high-school teacher from southern Lebanon, asked his brother in Germany to loan him a few thousand dollars to install a solar energy system for his household.

“The situation became unbearable,” Nehme said. “My daughters studied for their high-school graduation exams during total blackouts with flashlights from their cellphones.”

“We reached zero hours of electricity from the state earlier this summer and local private generators were also limiting their supply – all while prices soared,” said Nehme.

“I don’t want my daughters to live the same way we lived during the civil war; I had to find an escape out of darkness,” he added.


The current economic crisis in Lebanon is the worst in recent memory, with 2020 seeing a default on the nation’s debt and the value of the currency plummeting. 

The government-run Eléctricité du Liban (EDL) generates roughly 90% of the nation’s electricity but has only been able to supply power to homes for a few hours a day. Homes are experiencing prolonged power outages and some areas see blackouts lasting up to 23 hours per day. 

Many Lebanese have resorted to using pricey privately-owned diesel generators. But the use of generators has also been complicated by the economic turmoil, including surging fuel prices – due in part to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and exacerbated by Lebanon’s weak currency – as well as the revocation of government subsidies.

The finances of many Lebanese households are hurting, forcing them once again to seek alternatives, and many are turning to solar energy. But the lack of regulation in the nascent sector also means that prices fluctuate significantly between providers and regions.

Samir Haj Ali, a local solar energy systems provider in southern Lebanon, told FRANCE 24 that he charges at least $2,500 for a modest 5-amp energy system – a price that is out of reach for most Lebanese. 

However, a lack of regulation has given rise to a new raft of problems. Ali said that many of those now working in Lebanon’s solar industry are not specialists, and their installations have led to technical issues including fires. 

Jessica Obeid, an energy expert, said Lebanon’s solar market is suffering from “a lack of regulation, quality control and awareness”.

The result is significant safety hazards, low-quality equipment, and the installation of solar systems that will cause many consumers to pay tremendous amounts for equipment maintenance and replacement. 

“Eventually, the market will improve, but that will take years and be costly,” Obeid said.

300 days of sunshine

Lebanon set a goal of getting 12% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. But many experts say this goal has likely not been met, given the collapse of the national power grid, although there is a lack of official data.

Nevertheless, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that Lebanon could cost-effectively source 30% of its electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030 – if the right plans are put in place. 

Lebanon has a large amount of land that is appropriate for solar and wind energy and receives roughly 300 days of sunshine annually. But large-scale solar projects designed to harness this resource are lacking.

Obeid noted that a large-scale transition to solar energy would need to involve action at the individual, community and municipal levels. In addition, it would require the construction of utility-scale plants – solar plants large enough to generate enough power to feed into the grid. 

Utility-scale plants require access to the grid, a means of storing energy, financing, private sector engagement, independent regulation and dedicated institutions, Obeid explained, adding that none of this is currently on the horizon. Moreover, she said, utility-scale renewable energy projects have so far been hampered by issues with tenders and the overall oversight of the industry.

“I have been calling for decentralised hybrid renewable energy systems for years since I do not believe in any reforms coming out of the central government,” she said.

The shift towards solar energy in Lebanon raises the question of whether a feed-in-tariff model could be implemented, by which households would receive payments for the surplus electricity generated by renewable sources such as solar photovoltaic cells or wind and hydro turbine systems.

But Obeid said such a model is unlikely to work in Lebanon under the current circumstances. The most significant driver of small-scale renewable energy, she said, is nationwide policymaking and the institutions needed to provide essential services – both of which Lebanon currently lacks.


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